Quoting Peter Drucker, author of the business classic “Managing Oneself”:
“It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
To achieve your highest level of performance and contribution, you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses, and you need to spend most of your time working on such strengths.
Here’s where a personal SWOT analysis comes in handy.
A SWOT analysis is often used in organizational strategic planning. In this article, we’ll show you how to implement it to improve both your personal and professional competence.
Let’s start with a basic question.
What is a personal SWOT analysis?
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
It’s a planning technique that aims to help individuals better understand the current state of a specific situation to improve decision-making.
A typical SWOT analysis might look something like this:
This technique is popular in business administration, as it gives you a clearer picture of all the elements involved in a given business decision.
That said, you can use a SWOT analysis for many other purposes. For example:
- Exploring a new job position to figure out whether it’s the right career path for you.
- Performing a personal assessment to develop a full awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses.
- Finding out what skills you should pay the most attention to.
- Discovering blind spots in your personal routine and improving the way you work and behave.
You can also use it for any other activity that involves making a decision.
In short, a personal SWOT analysis will help you better understand any situation and get the most out of your time and resources.
By understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you’re able to turn such strengths into opportunities. You can also develop contingency plans to prevent your weaknesses from becoming real threats.
We’ll cover the actual process of developing a SWOT analysis in the real world, but first, let’s answer a crucial question.
Why do you need a SWOT analysis?
Studies from Gallup suggest that 5 out of 10 employees in a given organization are not engaged — meaning they’re completely disconnected from their job.
The same report says that 13% of an organization’s employees feel, at least, somewhat “miserable” at work.
This means that roughly 6 out of 10 people reading this guide are probably not so happy with their current job position.
Even though there are many reasons for disengagement at work, one of the biggest ones is lack of satisfaction — feeling they aren’t contributing to anything important.
Sadly, many people aren’t able to achieve their highest level of contribution because they don’t know themselves.
They ignore, overlook, or discount their strengths and weaknesses.
Thus, they can’t take opportunities when they present themselves.
That’s one of the reasons SWOT analyses are so valuable. They help you understand your current level of performance and identify areas of improvement in your personal life.
By knowing yourself, you’ll be able to make better decisions in your business and career.
And this is just one of the many reasons you should perform a personal SWOT analysis. Other important benefits include:
- Better optimize your time: Spend your time turning internal strengths into opportunities rather than trying to turn incompetence into mediocrity.
- Maximize your resources: Understand where you should be spending your money and resources.
- Find hidden opportunities: Discover opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.
- Avoid potential threats: Develop strategic contingency plans to protect you from potential threats in your business and life.
- Achieve better alignment: Align your goals with your own strengths and mitigate weaknesses and threats.
How to perform a SWOT analysis
Now that you understand the basics about a personal SWOT analysis, the question becomes: How can you actually perform one?
Let’s cover a basic seven-step process:
1. Define your success criteria
Like any other strategic process, you should start your SWOT analysis by setting goals.
What are you trying to achieve in the first place? Are you looking for a new career path? Do you want to simply understand yourself a bit better? Do you want to start a new business?
Take a moment to think about what you want to achieve and write down your goals using the SMART criteria.
SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
The SMART technique helps you answer some of the following questions when setting your goals:
- Specific: What do you want to achieve, exactly?
- Measurable: How will you measure progress? What does success look like for you?
- Achievable: Can you actually achieve this goal?
- Relevant: Does this goal fit with your other goals and overall life plan?
- Time-based: How long will it take you to achieve this goal?
This goal-setting framework is helpful for coming up with clearer goals for your SWOT analysis.
“I want to start a new marketing agency and get my first paying client within the next three months.”
Let’s break down this example using the SMART criteria:
- Specific: You not only want to start a business but a marketing agency.
- Measurable: You can easily measure when this goal is achieved — when you receive your first payment from a client.
- Achievable: Assuming you have experience in running or managing a marketing agency, this seems like a goal within reach.
- Relevant: If your life plan involves running your own business in a marketing field, this goal seems relevant.
- Time-based: You have three months to achieve your goal.
By setting clear goals prior to developing your SWOT analysis, you’ll be able to make decisions that are more aligned with such goals.
2. Create a matrix
A SWOT analysis is often performed in a four-quadrant matrix.
Each quadrant should represent the different elements involved in SWOT, which are:
- Strengths: What are you great at? This may include skills, talents, and education.
- Weaknesses: What can people not count on you for? This may include bad habits, poorly developed skills, or anything you’re simply not good at.
- Opportunities: Are there any favorable circumstances that make it possible to achieve something great? (e.g., a job promotion, potential business partnerships, etc.)
- Threats: Are there any unfavorable circumstances that challenge your ability to achieve your goals? (e.g., a new business competitor, government regulations in your country, etc.)
The top two quadrants should include strengths and weaknesses, as both are internal factors (depend on you).
In the bottom two quadrants, you should include opportunities and threats, which are external factors (depend on factors outside of you).
Your final matrix should look something like this:
At this point, don’t worry about completing the analysis. Simply create the structure of the matrix you’ll use later on.
3. Define your strengths
Now that you have structured your matrix, it’s time to perform the analysis.
Even though there’s no specific order to follow, we suggest that you start with your strengths, as people tend to be more aware of their strengths compared to their weaknesses.
Now, what is a strength?
As we covered a bit earlier, a strength is anything you’re competent at. For instance:
- Skills: Have you practiced something long enough to be considered an “expert”? (e.g., digital marketing, public speaking, rapport building, etc.)
- Talents: Are you naturally good at something? (e.g., a musical ear, attention to detail, natural leadership skills, etc.)
- Education: What have you studied or learned over the years? (e.g., a specific degree, corporate training, etc.)
- Habits: What are your best habits? (e.g., a solid work ethic, good sleep habits, etc.)
- Personal traits: What are your top personality traits? (e.g., organized, patient, respectful, creative, etc.)
Think about any strength you have and write it down in the “Strengths” quadrant.
If you’re struggling to come up with strengths, we suggest you ask a colleague, friend, business partner, or family member to give you some feedback.
4. Define your weaknesses
With strengths in place, it’s time to complete the “Weaknesses” quadrant.
Compared to strengths, though, weaknesses are often harder to come up with. Again, if you’re having a rough time, we suggest you collect feedback from external sources.
That said, what is a weakness?
A weakness is anything that you are incompetent at. For example:
- Lack of experience or knowledge: What topics or fields do you know you still need to learn?
- Bad habits: What are your worst habits? (e.g., not taking care of yourself, procrastinating a lot, being disorganized, etc.)
- Things you struggle with: What things do you naturally struggle with? (e.g., lack of confidence, having trouble asking for help, communication problems, etc.)
- Handicaps: Do you have any handicaps that may prevent you from achieving your goal? (e.g., you want a promotion that requires you to speak Chinese, but you don’t speak Chinese).
5. Identify opportunities
At this point, you already completed the two internal quadrants of your SWOT analysis. It’s time to complete the external ones, starting with external opportunities.
An opportunity is any particular circumstance that’s favorable to you. That is something that can help you move towards your main goal.
Most of the time, you can’t control the opportunities you have. They present sporadically, and you must be ready to take them on when they do.
But you can’t take on opportunities you aren’t aware of, right?
That’s why you should start by exploring and brainstorming potential opportunities, which may include:
- Trends: Are there any industry trends you can take advantage of? (e.g., if you’re great at public speaking, you could start, say, a podcast).
- Strengths: Do you have any strengths you can turn into an opportunity right now? (e.g., if you have solid baking skills, you could start a new cake shop).
- Events: Are there any events happening right now you can turn into opportunities? (e.g., during the pandemic caused by COVID-19, many people used their digital marketing skills to help businesses survive).
- Technology: Can you tap into technology to improve one of your strengths? (e.g., project management software can help project managers optimize their time while improving their results).
6. Identify threats
With opportunities in place, now it’s time to think about potential threats that may harm your ability to achieve your main goal.
But what is a threat, you ask?
In short, any external circumstance that’s unfavorable to you. For example:
- External forces: Is there any external force that might be harmful to your goals? (e.g., the lockdown caused by COVID-19, an economic recession, etc.).
- Competitors: Do you have direct or indirect competitors trying to achieve your same goals? (e.g., you want a job promotion, but a colleague seems to be more competent than you).
- Lack of resources: Do you have the necessary resources to meet your goals? (e.g., you want to start a new SaaS, but you don’t have any money).
7. Invite your teammates to review your SWOT matrix and brainstorm ideas
Since you’re probably performing this exercise on your own, it’s pretty easy to fill your matrix with biased information, which may harm the effectiveness of your SWOT analysis.
That’s why we suggest you bring in some external people to provide feedback on your ideas.
Once you complete your initial analysis, schedule a meeting with your team or colleagues and ask them to review your matrix.
Getting external input will help you “polish” the matrix and come up with more helpful and actionable insights for your decision-making.
Ready to perform a SWOT analysis?
To manage yourself, you must first know yourself.
A personal SWOT analysis will help you identify your core strengths and weaknesses, as well as threats and opportunities surrounding your work and life.
Hopefully, now you understand the process of performing a SWOT analysis with ease.
Start by asking yourself:
- What am I the best in the world at?
- What activities do I constantly avoid doing?
- How can I turn my strengths into opportunities?
- What’s stopping me from achieving my highest level of contribution?
The answers to these questions will help you start your personal SWOT analysis on the right foot and get it done faster.
And if you want to take your skills and strengths to the next level, Pareto Labs can help you do it. To see for yourself, why don’t you take a look at our career development courses?